Column Entry, Fanning the Flame, “The Burden and Beauty of Our Task,” by Joseph Bird

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Column Title: Fanning the Flame: Reigniting the Joy of Christian Communication for Pastor, Pew, and Public

Column Entry: “The Burden and Beauty of Our Task”

By Joseph Bird, PhD, MDiv, William Carey University

Column Description: Preaching and teaching are public communication art and science, but never easy. It is especially difficult when we lose the joy we once had to effectively communicate God’s Word. This column aims to encourage Christian communicators–whether in the pulpit or in the pew- to find joy once again in preparing, crafting, and delivering God-honoring messages that equip the Body of Christ and witness the redemptive power of the Gospel to the world. The column engages with Scripture, Christian thinkers, teachers, and theologians throughout Church history, contemporary homileticians, rhetoricians, and other communication scholars and practitioners to rediscover a deep, lasting joy in Christian communication that nourishes and transforms.

February-March 2024 | January 2024


The Burden and Beauty of Our Task

In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina tore through the southern part of the United States. I distinctly remember standing outside a couple of hours before the storm hit our home in central Mississippi. In that lull before the storm, I felt anxiety and heavy anticipation—The storm was coming, and I was powerless to do anything but wait. That lull seemed like a wrinkle in time. The minutes dragged on until, finally, the winds and rains bore down on us.

I am not exaggerating when I say that preachers feel something of that same wrinkle in time in the moments before they stand up to preach. When the music ends, we sense the anticipation and tremendous need of our people. We know that people are waiting for something only we, in that moment, can give them. They are gathered not for a lecture or a presentation but a word—a Word from God. The moment is unlike anything else. The burden is tremendous.

Many preachers experience this moment several times per week! This burden should not be confused with performance anxiety. Around 75% of the population fear public speaking.[1] The preacher’s burden reaches much deeper than simply a fear of speaking in front of a crowd. The preacher feels the burden of ensuring the words that are spoken are orthodox, that the exegesis and exposition are accurate, that the words please God, and that the words feed hungering souls. The burden is more akin to a surgeon who knows that the next few moments could be the difference in life or death for his patient. Or the pilot who feels the weight of the lives of two hundred people who are dependent on him.[2]

As intense as this burden is in the moments before the sermon is given, if that was the extent of the burden, it could be bearable. The problem is that while this burden reaches something of a fever pitch right before the sermon, the burden is ever-present. Sometimes, we wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it. Often, when we are driving in the car, watching TV, or even talking to people, in the back of our minds, we are wrestling, thinking, waiting—we are preparing to preach the Word.

Of course, all this leads a sane person to ask, “If the burden is truly so great, then why in the world do you do it?” The simple answer is we must do it. Our hearts mirror the Apostle Paul’s when he writes, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”[3] In his Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon proclaims, “If you can do anything else, do it. If you can stay out of the ministry, stay out of the ministry. He continued, “If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor or a grocer or a farmer or a doctor or a lawyer or a senator or a king, in the name of heaven and earth, let him go his way.”[4]

Spurgeon highlights the reality that preaching is not so much a choice as it is a calling. Heisler further clarifies the significance of the pastor’s call to preaching when he writes, “Preaching is a calling to which we surrender. We do not preach because we have nothing else to do; we preach because the call of God will not allow us to do anything else.”[5] The burden is part of the calling.

Why does God allow us to experience this tremendous burden? God allows us to carry this burden because it forces us to depend on Him entirely. In his book, The Holy Spirit in Preaching, James Forbes writes it this way, “We don’t have to do our preaching alone. In fact, we cannot do it alone.”[6] This dependence is not a cause for lamentation but for celebration. The truth that we are absolutely and utterly dependent on God means that we do not bear this burden alone. In fact, the Holy Spirit bears it with us. He takes the brunt of the burden, and He is in control of the results. That is fantastic news for weary preachers!

The truth that we are never alone in this dramatically changes everything about it. As we sit to prepare the sermon, we do not sit alone. When we wrestle with the text, we do not wrestle alone. When we stand behind the pulpit, we do not stand alone. The same Spirit who “was hovering over the face of the waters” at creation hovers over us.[7] The same Spirit who anointed Jesus and the apostles, anoints us. The very same Spirit who “carried” the Scripture writers, carries us.[8] We may be burdened, but we are never alone.

A serious temptation that we have is to focus so much on the burden of our calling to preach that we miss the beauty of it. The burden to preach is also a gift from God. We know that in and of ourselves, we are not worthy to speak the blessed name of Jesus Christ, and yet, He has made us worthy and called us to tell the world about Him. He has uniquely gifted us to feed and care for His own people. Furthermore, He has infused us with the wisdom and ability to communicate the gospel to a lost world in the hopes that they, too, will come to know Him as we have.

The burden of constantly mulling over, thinking through, and studying Scriptural texts is also beautiful. We are mulling, thinking, and studying—WITH God! He has called us to come and sit with Him—the creator of the cosmos, the author of the text, and the Savior of the people we will preach to. We have instant access to the King Himself. A lot of us run our sermon ideas by our family and friends to see what they think about where we are going. How insane is it that we can run our ideas by God because of the inspiration of Scripture and the illumination of the Spirit—He communicates back to us!

To put this another way, our greatest temptation is to focus exclusively on the physical and tangible in preaching and ministry. We focus on attendance numbers, quarterly financial reports, and a hundred other metrics we can clearly see with human eyes. To focus on these to the exclusion of the invisible intangibles is often our mistake.

From our perspective, the crowd is down this week, and the people seem disengaged. From God’s perspective, He sees that we are faithfully fulfilling our calling to the people He has called us to. He sees the seeds being planted in the child coloring on the front row, the teenager yawning in the back, and the grandmother staring into space. He sees what we do not see. He sees the eternality of what we are doing when we often only see the here and now.

We are disheartened because we do not see people coming down the aisle or praying at the altar each week. He sees the heart of the young father who quickly slipped out the back but who repented of his ongoing sins and committed to seeking God with all his heart. We see one child come down to the altar and wonder why no one else comes. God hears the rejoicing in heaven that one has come home, and He rejoices that we—dust and bones—are part of His eternal story.

We see through a glass dimly; He sees the entire picture—that picture is beautiful.

In a real sense, we are like the Levitical priests of old. We do not have an inheritance in this life. What we have is greater than any king, or prince, or Rajha has ever had—we have the oracles of God, and we speak their truth to the nations. We also have the Third Person of the Trinity living in us, helping us, giving us the words to fulfill this burdensome and beautiful calling on our lives.

Next month, we will delve deeper into the Holy Spirit’s role in helping us communicate the Bible. Specifically, we will look at how the Holy Spirit empowers us to preach and teach Scripture. I hope you will come back and join us again as we seek to find joy once again in communicating the Bible.

* The views of any CCSN columnists are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the CCSN. We invite and embrace a wide range of views and critiques on important communication and cultural issues. The CCSN is a community of Jesus followers who study communication. We do not support or promote a particular social, political, or denominational agenda. 


[1] Public Speaking: Getting beyond the fear through the three P’s – UF/IFAS Extension Orange County (

[2] I do not mean to imply here that God is not sovereign and that the burden of people’s salvation is in our hands. I mean to convey that we understand we have a part to play in what God is going to do. Our fear is not about Him but about us and our own shortcomings.

[3] 1 Cor. 9:16 (English Standard Version)

[4] “If you can do anything else, do it.” – Theology for the People (

[5] Heisler, 71.

[6] Forbes, 86.

[7] Gen. 1:2 (English Standard Bible)

[8] 2 Peter 1:20-21 (English Standard Version)

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